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Why Not Believe in a Different Kind of God?

I have been talking about why suffering is a “problem” in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and here I would like to reflect a bit on a point that some commenters have made, that it is a problem if and only if one has a certain conception of God as a being who is all-powerful, loving, and active in the world.  Someone who has a different understanding of the divine being – or divine beings – almost certainly won’t have this problem.

I will let others on the blog comment on divine beings in other modern religious traditions, outside of traditional Christianity.   But I will say that the pagan world in which Christianity originally began, there were much easier answers to why people suffer if there are powerful deities in the world.  The key is that in the ancient world, everyone except Jews acknowledged that there were *lots* of other deities, at all kinds of level and of all sorts of temperament.  Some divine beings could be hateful, malicious, and antagonistic.   Can’t do much about that.  Even with the good ones – if you got them angry, things could go very wrong indeed.

I would argue that even the religion that became Judaism started out with a multiplicity of deities.  The constant injunctions in the Hebrew Bible not to worship other gods almost certainly arose precisely because so many Israelites *were* worshiping other gods.  Even though the authors of the Bible insisted on the worship of Yahweh, there is little reason to think that that is what was actually happening on the ground.

Moreover, for most of the Hebrew Bible the kind of conception of the divine is henotheistic rather than monotheistic.   In the way I’m defining the terms (various scholars define them variously, but this is the normal way), “henotheism” refers to a religious belief that only one God is to be worshiped, while acknowledging that other gods exist.   This seems to be the view of most of the authors of the Old Testament.

You see it, for example, already in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) where the faithful Israelite is sternly instructed “You shall have no other gods before me.”  The commandment is NOT: “You must believe there is only one God.”  On the contrary, the commandment presupposes that there are indeed other gods.  None of them is to be worshiped by those who worship Yahweh (or does it mean not to be worshiped *more* than Yahweh?).

Eventually this henotheism morphed into a true “monotheism” the belief that there is in fact only one God.  The other supposed divine beings are either demons or they don’t exist at all.  (If they are demons they are a still *kind* of divine being, but they are so pathetically weak in comparison with God that they don’t so much count as competitors.)  You find this view, for example, in what is called 2 Isaiah (a book written in the 6th c. BCE, tacked on to the writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem from the 8th c BCE, and now comprising Isaiah chs. 40-55).   God insists that he alone is God, and “there is no other.”

That became the view of Judaism and then, later, Christianity.  There are no gods but God.  Islam, of course, inherited the view much later.  It is within these great monotheistic traditions that the “problem of suffering emerges.”  I know that many (most?) Muslims insist that for them suffering is *not* a problem, but I should say that I know myriad Christians who say it is not for them either.  Conceptually (even though people have their “solutions”) the problem is a problem for anyone who believes there is only one powerful divine being who loves people and yet those people suffer anguishing and truly horrible pain.

And so a number of commenters have suggested that it is simply better to believe in a different kind of God.   Why not simply give up on the idea that God is all powerful?  Why not, in fact, adopt a “deistic” conception of God?  “Deism” in this context usually denotes the belief that there is indeed a divine power in the universe, who may ultimately be “behind it all,” for example, as the one “who got the ball rolling” but who is not actively involved in the world.  So hey, it’s not *his* fault.!

One common way of imagining this is to think that God started the universe in some unknown and probably unknowable way – say, 13.8 billion years ago – and then simply let nature take its course.  Big bang; rapid expansion; formation of galaxies of stars; development of our solar system; formation of earth; cooling of the planet; emergence of first life; evolution.  Then, after those 13.8 billion years are up, just some 200,000 years ago, the appearance of homo sapiens; 190,000 years later, the development of human culture; and so it goes till the invention of the I-phone.  Why not?

Suffering, then, is just the way it works, because it’s how nature works.  “God” – the one who started the whole thing – has nothing to do with it.

So isn’t this a better more intellectually satisfying view?  Why not?

Why not indeed?  I can’t actually think of an argument against this view.  So for me it would be personally plausible.  But – here I’m speaking completely personally – I’ve never seen any reason to believe it.  Why appeal to a divine causality for the start of all things when everything else can be explained apart from divine causality?  The one and only reason I can think of for someone coming up with any such idea is that they started *out* thinking that there was a God; then they came to realize that that belief is problematic for one reason or another (for example, it can’t explain why most homo sapiens over the course of their 200,000 years have lived in excruciating pain and died badly) and so fallen back on a *different* idea of the deity.  But why have any idea of a deity at all?

And what does such a belief give you?   Suppose it’s right.  Then what?  What would it matter?   How would it affect a single thing you think, believe, or do?  How would it have any effect on your life?  I should think that it is in a sense simply a kind of functional atheism.   Yes, there is a god out there, but god has absolutely nothing to do with *me*.

So I don’t know why I should want to believe such a thing.  I don’t know what logic would suggest it. I don’t know how it explains anything that can’t be explained without it (OK, yes, we can’t explain the Big Bang; but if you posit God as the one who made the Big Bang you have the same problem: you can’t explain God.  Ultimately, either way, you can’t explain the First Principle.)  I don’t know how it would change my life.  I don’t know how it is really much of anything except a faint shadow of the Jewish-Christian belief in God with no basis, necessity, or practical effect.  So why believe it?

Again, let me stress, this is just my personal opinion, and it’s not one I insist on.  It’s not based on “scholarship.”  It’s not a view I push on others.  (I’ve never mentioned it before, to my knowledge!)  I don’t mind if others have the opposite view, that some such understanding explains our world better than an atheistic one.  But I’ve never felt or understood either its emotional attractions or its logical necessity.

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Do I Need to Suffer Myself to Question Whether God Exists?
The Classic “Problem” of Suffering

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Comments

  1. cjeanne  June 30, 2017

    What use would a God who started the Big Bang and then withdrew have? Why have one at all?

    • Eskil  July 3, 2017

      How life originated and how the first cell came into being are matters of speculation, since these events cannot be reproduced in the laboratory. That could have been the second act of God.

    • SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2017

      Why have anything that exists? Why have a universe? Maybe it just is — no reason. Maybe God just is — no reason. The only difference to me is that I don’t know whether or not God exists, mainly because I don’t know what God would be if it exists.

  2. Robert  June 30, 2017

    I would take a more pantheistic/process theology perspective toward thinking of God’s activity in the universe, whereby it is primarily through us and our motives and actions that God becomes incarnate. I say primarily only because I would not want to exclude others animals and the rest of the universe, living and otherwise existing materially. Anything above, beyond, before, or behind the whole she-bang is unknowable from our oh so very limited perspective. All talk of God is at best poetic and symbolic representations for how we treat one another. Pantheism is, for some, mere atheism and I am fine with that label for myself as well. Those who oppose atheism and theism presume some conception or definition of a god, which is not God. I think Jesus, were he around today, would be perfectly comfortable with such ideas, and, if not, I would do my best to convince him, ‘though I’m sure he would put more stock in deeds than words. Why believe such things? I don’t believe them but merely express them as a way of representing who I am to others who may be interested in such things.

  3. Michael Toon  June 30, 2017

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Dr. Ehrman. I’ve indicated a few times in the past that I was a committed Christian for a number of years. It was my devotional study of the Jesus personality in the gospels that shaped my outlook on life and my relationship to the broader world. But in 2010 something changed my worldview. I was watching a documentary about the rise of Einstein on YouTube and noticed video that said “What if you are wrong?” I clicked it and Richard Dawkins’ was addressing that question posed by a attendee of the lecture he held there. I vaguely remember hearing of a “Richard Dawkins” through a couple of books on theology. But the passionate force in Dawkins’ response to the question in this short video would change my life. I started watching more videos of him and Hitchens. The windup was I eventually discovered you around 2012 and the academic study of the New Testament became my life ever since then. The study encapsulates interrelated fields of study e.g. human memory, intuition, consciousness, debate, critical thinking etc. Anyway, not long after watching that video I was left feeling gobsmacked about what the implications of Dawkins’ statement meant. Shorty—almost immediately, actually—I renounced my faith in the Christian tradition. For sometime after that I entertained the notion of deism. But that didn’t work. It didn’t work precisely for the reasons that you delineate in your article about it. Then I went through a brief phase of being a pantheist. In the end however, even that view didn’t remotely satisfy my unrelenting anguish the problem of suffering in the world. For me then to the present day, any other attempt at invoking a God into the equstion of my worldview was simply an exercise of special pleading and pure conjecture. Like you, I’m an agnostic, and feel that one’s view of the universe deserves a sense of humility.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6mmskXXetcg

  4. Lev
    Lev  June 30, 2017

    Excellent post, Bart. Really interesting theory.

    Do you think that “a “deistic” conception of God” was held by the author of Ecclesiastes?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2017

      No, I don’t think that option was genuinely available until the Enlightenment. But Epicureans did hold a similar view, and many scholars have thought the author was influenced by Epicurean thought.

  5. godspell  June 30, 2017

    Why have any beliefs about God at all?

    And I’ve yet to ever encounter a self-professed atheist or agnostic who did not. In point of fact, they spend more time obsessing over God than the average nominal theist.

    What would people get out of such a religion? You’re talking about the beliefs of an enormous cross-section of the human race.

    Much as I respect the contribution made by the Abrahaminic faiths, much as I acknowledge that western civilization to a great extent stems from Judaism giving rise to Christianity, and then both being confronted by Islam, for all that is good and bad about each, they are not all there is to the world we live in.

    This is ethnocentrism of a high order you are practicing here. You are basically saying “The only religion worth believing in is the one I abandoned because I can’t believe in it anymore.”

    Is there any chance we could get back to discussing history in the near future? Not merely how its study impacted your beliefs, which I know is important to you, but honestly, it’s not that important to me. I have my own beliefs, impacted by many of the same things as you, but the fact is, a million people could learn the same things, and react in a million different ways to that knowledge.

    I know this is your blog, and blogs are often used for the purpose of unburdening one’s soul and sharing one’s perceptions, but we’re here because you’re a fine historian, and I don’t really believe most of your readers require to know exactly what you believe about things that can never be proven either way.

    Some people are nosy, but most are just curious, and what I’m curious about is what we can establish about the historical Jesus and the rise of Christianity, and so are you, and God either is there or God isn’t there, but here on earth, God takes a huge number of forms, and I was raised to respect everyone’s beliefs.

    And you just insulted a whole bunch of them, whether you want to admit it or not. Zoroastrians are not some relic of Persian history, there are still millions of them, and they shaped our history as well. So did all the hunter-gatherers out there, without whom there wouldn’t be any history, and I doubt any are reading this blog, but I’m going to complain on their behalf–also Native Americans are still around, many worshipping nature in the old way, and a lot of them have blogs, and they’re part of this world too.

    I think you owe them all an apology for dismissing them out of hand as irrelevant.

    • godspell  June 30, 2017

      On, and one more thing. Being agnostic isn’t franchise-specific. You’re an agnostic about one religion, you’re agnostic about all of them. It’s not about morality (we all acknowledge that you can be moral in any religion, or none). It’s about logic, reasoning, empirical evidence. You can’t say “This is my reason for being agnostic/atheist,” and then say “If some other religion doesn’t have the same logical problems to it that are the basis for my disbelief, I’m still an agnostic//atheist because that religion wouldn’t be personally satisfying to me.”

      What’s that go to do with anything? Religion is about being comfortable? I think Jesus would have dissented rather vigorously on that. What would you get out of it? I think he’d say it’s much more about what you have to give.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2017

      I’m certainly not trying to insult anyone! But this blog is about early Christianity, and in my judgment Zoroastrianism had virtually no influence on early Christianity — nor did any of the other very many great religions of the world.

      • godspell  July 2, 2017

        Yes, the blog is about Christianity, and I wasn’t claiming any influence of Zoroastrianism upon it.

        But your recent posts are about why you’re an agnostic leaning towards atheism. An agnostic is not merely agnostic about one specific form of religious belief. You say “I can’t be a Christian in any form, because I see all the suffering around me, and Christianity can’t explain that to my satisfaction.”

        Other religions can. To which your response is, “I wouldn’t find those religions satisfying.” That’s an emotional response, not a logical one. And it does seem to imply that once you’ve dispensed with the claims of Christianity and the other Abrahamanic faiths in your own mind, you believe you’ve dispensed with theism as a whole.

        I understand there’s only so much one person can learn in one lifetime. Believe me. You’ve done great work expanding our understanding of how Christianity developed, and to do that, you also learned a great deal about early Judaism, and some forms of paganism.

        But at the end of the day, all you’ve really explained here is why you’re not a Christian anymore. Only have you? The hardest thing for any of us to truly understand is ourselves.

        My understanding, based on what you’ve told us, is that once you decided the specific God you had believed in did not exist, no God could possibly exist.

        My own feeling is that we can only know God by looking at the universe God made.

        It is beautiful. It is terrifying. It is complex. It has life, at least on one planet. Life is beautiful, terrifying, and complex. It has evil in it, but seems to be striving for better. It has love (and love existed long before the first human). It has hate (ditto). It has fear. It has hope.

        And it has choices.

        You made yours. Others will choose differently.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 3, 2017

          Are you saying that I don’t have the right to be an agnostic unless I’m an expert on every religious tradition found on the planet? What then *am* I allowed to be? And who is it that grants me permission?

          • godspell  July 3, 2017

            Oh come now. That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it. You can call yourself anything you like. Expertise is not the issue, since as you know full well, most Christians know next to nothing about their own traditions, and many if not most believe things Jesus would have found horrifying.

            You say you couldn’t be a fundamentalist Christian because you realized the fundamentalist interpretation of scripture made no sense. Which it doesn’t. You then tried being a liberal Christian, allowing you more leeway, but ultimately you decided that the liberal Christian God couldn’t exist, because a liberal Christian God wouldn’t allow all this suffering in the world. (I’m a liberal myself, but I don’t assume God is).

            Your argument for leaving one religion can only apply to that religion and to others that share the same set of presuppositions. Bertrand Russell wrote “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Not “Why All Religions are Wrong.” Of course he did think all religions were wrong, but being so very English, he just assumed if he’d disproved the religion he’d been raised with, he’d knocked them all down.

            You can call yourself an agnostic, and you don’t need anyone’s permission. But why do you need to call yourself anything at all? That’s what I’m wondering. You know by now that many religious people would call me an atheist/agnostic after they’d heard my opinions. They can call me what they like, and so can you, but all I am is me. That’s all anyone can ever be. If you don’t actually go to religious services–theistic or otherwise, and you know there are atheist churches out there–what’s the point in calling yourself something? The goal, if you don’t want to be religious, is to be utterly free. Not tethered to yet another group, however freeform it may be (perhaps not always–you’ve seen the beginnings of atheist/agnostic fundamentalism, don’t pretend you have not).

            A Jew can go on being a Jew without believing in God, and to a lesser extent, some Catholics may go on thinking of themselves as Catholics after ceasing to practice that religion–because culture. History. Solidarity with one’s oppressed ancestors.

            What’s your reason? You have not explained it. Not in the least. You say “I’m no longer a Christian, so I’m an agnostic.” One does not logically follow from the other.

            This is emotional. Not logical.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 4, 2017

            OK, we better put this back and forth to a rest. When you repeatedly said that I was not an expert, I thought you were saying that expertise was an issue. But apparently not. So we’re not communicating! May as well move on to other things. But I don’t want to leave the wrong impression: I have NOT been saying that all religions are wrong, or that I’ve proven that all religions are wrong. I’m simply explaining why I left my Christianity to become an agnostic.

          • godspell  July 4, 2017

            Okay, we’ll put it to a rest. I was simply saying that having left one thing doesn’t explain why you joined another. You can only be a theist or atheist/agnostic? Not so. I’m proof of that.

        • SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2017

          May I make a suggestion? If I want to have an extended discussion with somone on a public forum, I use a private messaging option (email, for instance) for two reasons: 1) most people on the forum are not interested in my personal beef and 2) it is unfair, in my opinion, to take someone to task in public about things that are not public business. I find Bart to be a very patient man and it troubles me when people are rude to him in public. That’s all I have to say about that.

  6. Todd  June 30, 2017

    This is a great post. I think I will print it out to read again.

    I was raised in the Episcopal church, went to seminary, worked in a few churches and then changed professions to something more helpful to society….elementary school teaching !! To give young people some real tools help them in life.

    Along the way I became one of those who migrated to a Buddhist way of thinking and behaving in life.

    Buddhist philosophy is ALL ABOUT SUFFERING and how to live a natural HAPPY life accepting what may come. As you know, Buddhism is not theistic. We are the only ones who can change our lives, not some magical God somewhere way off in the universe.

    I view Jesus in a different way than do traditional Christians. Jesus is the embodiment of compassion and is one who can also show us the way to happiness without the magicam ceremonies and doctrines the churches invented.

    I deeply appreciate your work and your blog and particularly the honesty of today’s post.

    There may be a type of “god” somewhere but I would bet that such a “god” is far different than we can ever imagine.

    One of my favorite bible verses is in 1 John 4, to paraphrase….”No one has seen God, but those who love, God abides within them.” It’s all about love.

    Thank you for today’s post.

    • johnlein  July 3, 2017

      Yes. I think Buddhism gives Christians great tools to think about God and Jesus even if they don’t convert. There’s a book called “Without the Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian” by a practicing Catholic scholar with a Buddhist wife that is a great read on the subject.

      I’m somewhere along your path, seeing where it will turn out. I was raised Fundamentalist, became Episcopalian a few years ago, currently in seminary, and wondering where I will end up. At minimum books like the aforementioned and others like Merton and Watts have helped me see the universe through the eyes of other religions which has been really helpful. I’m also helped considerably in these areas by studies of mysticism and postmodern theology from authors like Peter Rollins and John Caputo and Teilhard de Chardin.

  7. Todd  June 30, 2017

    This is a great post. I think I will print it out to read again.

    I was raised in the Episcopal church, went to seminary, worked in a few churches and then changed professions to something more helpful to society….elementary school teaching !! To give young people some real tools help them in life.

    Along the way I became one of those who migrated to a Buddhist way of thinking and behaving in life.

    Buddhist philosophy is ALL ABOUT SUFFERING and how to live a natural HAPPY life accepting what may come. As you know, Buddhism is not theistic. We are the only ones who can change our lives, not some magical God somewhere way off in the universe.

    I view Jesus in a different way than do traditional Christians. Jesus is the embodiment of compassion and is one who can also show us the way to happiness without the magicam ceremonies and doctrines the churches invented.

    I deeply appreciate your work and your blog and particularly the honesty of today’s post.

    There may be a type of “god” somewhere but I would bet that such a “god” is far different than we can ever imagine.

    One of my favorite bible verses is in 1 John 4, to paraphrase….”No one has seen God, but those who love, God abides within them.” It’s all about love.

    Thank you for today’s post.

  8. Boltonian  June 30, 2017

    The unmoved mover idea has never appealed to me either for the reason you give: it just shifts the problem from ‘What came before Big Bang?’ to ‘What came before God?’

    Thervada Buddhism has nothing to say about the existence of God but is much more concerned with how one behaves in this life. The concept of suffering is central to the religion. I am not a Buddhist for various reasons but I find its non-doctrinaire approach more attractive than the so-called ‘Religions of the book.’

  9. RonaldTaska  June 30, 2017

    1. Your view, as usual, makes a lot of sense to me.

    2. Reynolds Price in “Letter to a Man in the Fire” discusses these different views of God. One possible option that Price described that perked my interest is that God created it all and it didn’t work out as well as He/She had hoped so He/She went back to the drawing board to make some adjustments and then tried it again elsewhere in another universe leaving us to fend for ourselves.

    3. You continue to have amazing tolerance and respect for other views. I wish I could develop more of this, but it is hard when the evidence does not support these views.

  10. Wilusa  June 30, 2017

    Well, some people believe the only possible explanation for the existence of the Cosmos is that it was “created” by a previously existing “intelligence.” I don’t believe that, but I find it understandable that others do.

    In that case, though, there’s no reason – let alone need – to *worship* the “creator.” I suppose one might feel some degree of *gratitude*, but there’d be no reason to think the “creator” expects anything, or even knows we exist. (If he/she/it still exists!)

    • Kirktrumb59  July 5, 2017

      that’s it. Believe anything one wants, but mind one’s own business. The great sage of our and of all times, James Douglas Morrison:
      “When I was back there in seminary school
      There was a person there
      Who put forth the proposition
      That you can petition the Lord with prayer
      Petition the Lord with prayer
      Petition the Lord with prayer
      YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”
      Spinoza: HA!
      Kant: Gimme a break!
      Hume: Too good to be true!
      Duns Scotus: Try again!
      Heidegger: Don’t ask!

  11. Alfred  June 30, 2017

    The difference between philosophy and science is that science recognises that some human ideas are ‘outside of science’ because hey are untestable. Many conceptions of God/gods are of this type. For example, it provides a complete explanation of everything if you posit the existence of a god, who made everything, just as it appears today, five minutes ago. S/he put the fossils in the ground, the memories in our head and the dna in all living things with the appearance of common descent. There is no observation which could falsify this belief. It is therefore ‘outside science’. Any number of such beliefs are possible. For example it may have been a triune god who did this; or Rumplestilskin; or a pre-existent Donald Trump; or me. The actual scientific evidence we know of does not require ago to explain it.

  12. Brian  June 30, 2017

    Deism is just an anteroom when you’re on your way out the door. Or at least it was for me.

  13. screwtape  June 30, 2017

    Sometimes I find myself wondering why monotheism even prevailed over polytheism as a belief system. If you insist on a supernatural explanation for why the universe is the way it is, polytheism seems to provide a much better answer in my mind. As H.L. Mencken said, ““It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.”

    • dragonfly  July 3, 2017

      I’ve been wondering about that a too. As you say, it is not because monotheism explains the world better. It could be about control. In polytheism, no God has complete power. There’s always another God that could stop him from doing something. If you worship one god, another might get jealous and make you suffer. If you worship both, they might both get jealous. Or maybe they don’t care if you worship them. It makes it hard to find favour with the gods. In monotheism, there’s only one god, and he can do anything he wants. And he’s moral, so he has to be kind to you if you do what he commands. This gives a better feeling of control over things you don’t have any control over.

  14. GTGeek88  June 30, 2017

    If God exists and created the entire universe and all of us in one fashion or another, then it’s got to be a god that we can never fully understand, at least not now. But, there is still the question “if God is loving, then why the suffering?” One way to address that might be to wonder about the purpose of our life here in relation to our reward in heaven. If in heaven we become some sort of enlightened being who understands God and the questions that we’ve always wondered about and we live forever in eternal bliss, then what was the point of our earthly existence which is too short to even fathom compared to infinity? What could we possibly have done or learned on Earth to deserve that? The assumption here is that we will become enlightened beings and not just exist in heaven in some sort of extension of the clueless state in which we live in here on Earth. Why go from pretty ignorant and clueless to so informed and enlightened? If we’re going to make that kind of jump, why bother spending any time on Earth at all? It would kind of be like telling a child that they had to learn one plus one before being given all the knowledge of mathematics. Why bother? Why not just give them all the knowledge of mathematics to begin with? Our existence on Earth and the knowledge we can gain in our short lives is inconsequential compared to infinity and the enlightenment we would gain in heaven, just as learning 1+1 is inconsequential in comparison to all the knowledge of mathematics. Although I think I’ve developed compassion and empathy for others, my direct experience is only about being a male WASP in America. So, with the idea of the multi-verse in mind, which has been proposed by various scientists, I wonder if we live various lives in various universes and eventually God brings them altogether and thereby gives us the opportunity to experience the lives that others have led directly as our own lives in various universes. This is how we learn all aspects of life and all the experiences of others. This is not something I necessarily believe as being perfectly true, but it’s just something I wonder about. And I have to recognize that an all powerful being able to create the universe is capable of anything. Ultimately, I don’t worry about it too much. I just know that I feel like God wants us to live a loving life, be loving towards others, and be tolerant and compassionate. And I also think he wants us to apply our beliefs to our own lives and to not impose them on others because we simply don’t have the knowledge to do such a thing.

  15. gwayersdds  June 30, 2017

    I forget who said it but whoever it was said “If God did not exist, man would have invented him”. There seems to be a hard wired notion in our DNA that there is something out there bigger than us. From the earliest archeological evidence we have there seems to be some concept of an afterlife. Neanderthals burying the dead with items needed in the hereafter. Personally I believe that when God said “let there be light” that was the moment of the big bang when all laws of nature, physics, etc were created. even though we don’t know all of these laws yet. When I took an embryology class and saw how many pieces have to fit together correctly for the embryo to develop properly it amazed me how often it turns out right and that somehow there has to be some sort of guiding deity who made the “rules”. Yes sometimes it doesn’t but there are biological reasons for that too. If
    God were to interfere once in a while when something went wrong then He would be required to violate the very laws He created. This would create a capricious deity who didn’t get it right the first time. The universe is so complicated that I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a creator, someone (something?) a whole lot smarter than me who developed the laws that govern the natural universe.

  16. hasankhan  June 30, 2017

    There is no point in just believing in some God if it has no implications on how we live. That’s why I’m Islam belief alone is not sufficient to save one from hellfire. It’s the belief coupled with submission that attains a person salvation.

    In Quran, Allah asks us to ponder and reflect on His signs to conclude that He exists. Once we believe there is some God then He asks us to ponder and reflect on whether Quran could be from any other than Allah.

    Basically once we’re convinced that Quran is indeed from the God and it could not possibly be work of human beings and it has not been altered then last step is to submit to Him by following His guidance.

    Allah does not claim that He is only loving. He also says He is severe in punishment. He also says He is just. He also is forgiving and merciful. But that does not mean He applies His mercy on everyone or forgiveness on everyone or wrath on everyone.

    His only guarantee is that if we believe and do good deeds then we’ll earn paradise and if we explicitly reject the message when we receive it then we’ll be punished. Other than that there are no guarantees to how people will be treated on earth. He does as He wills.

    This means evil person may be punished on earth or not. Believers may sometimes be saved from hardship, sometimes not. Sometimes He will intervene and prevent evil because of His wisdom or mercy or His will.

    He allows things to happen and prevents things from happening. He has pre-destined hardship for every person in some form. Those who get greater hardship, get easy accounting and those who face less hardship will have tough accounting unless He bestows mercy on a person.

    Basically He can bestow mercy on whoever He wills but He will never eternally punish anyone without fault.

    Also people of heaven and hell feel like their life on earth was only a day or so. That’s because compared to eternity the suffering in this life is minuscule.

    It appears a big deal to us because we don’t have the perspective of eternal life, it’s pleasure or suffering.

  17. tompicard
    tompicard  June 30, 2017

    yeah “[some] commenters have suggested . . . giv[ing] up on the idea that God is all powerful”
    But, I didn’t read (or maybe didn’t pay any attention) if some commenters recommended
    “Why not, in fact, adopt a “deistic” conception of God? ”

    Giving up the idea that God’s Will can be accomplished totally absent human responsibility does not, to me, amount to deism. I don’t think the bible supports deism, nor do I think the bible supports God’s ability or desire to violate human responsibility.

    God, supposing He exists, created the world we live on and designed it in such a way that it could adequately feed (just a guess here) 14 billion people. God gave his children dominion over the earth (see Gen 1:28), telling the man to till the earth etc. God’s giving his children ‘dominion’ implies his children having a responsibility to use the resources given them properly and unselfishly. I understand that God suffers grievously over each child that dies each 7 seconds, but (and i don’t understand this completely) God is unwilling to violate the dominion/responsibility to humans, by dropping manna and/or quail on those starving individuals or magically refilling food containers (although according to the bible, i guess He did so once or twice).
    War/murder can be analogously. Sad effects natural disasters can be greatly mitigated by human wisdom and love. This maybe deeper understanding of God’s heart may be a partial answer.

  18. doug  June 30, 2017

    I once reduced my belief in God to Deism, since I could no longer believe in a God who cared enough or was able to do anything for us. I was afraid to think of myself as an agnostic/atheist – I had been strongly taught that non-believers were *very* terrible people. But eventually I realized that I was not a terrible person, and I had no reason to believe in a lesser God. So I was finally free to let go of any belief in a God.

  19. Pegill7  June 30, 2017

    Bart,

    Along this line of thinking, I’ve often wondered as to the appeal of Unitarianism- Unilateralism. This appears to be just a different form of deism, with some of the trappings of conventional Christianity- conventional notion of the Christian Creator God, but who does not intervene in human affairs, who does not have a Son to die for the atonement of sinful humans. It seems that followers of this tradition can’t quite give up worshiping a God, but have given up most of Christian theology. For them there is no problem of evil since after Creation nature just takes its course and if that results in human suffering then we should use our intellects ( they’re big on this since they apparently believe theirs is the thinking person’s religion) to change things for the better by learning the rules of nature and shaping our lives in accordance with them. As to their need for a God, my response to that is that attributed to Laplace, “I have no need for that hypothesis.”

    • Scorpiored48  July 4, 2017

      As a Unitarian Universalist myself I would take issue with the idea that UUs do not have a problem with evil in the world. We are a non-credal religion so if some chose to be deists that’s ok. Many UUs I know attach another religion to themselves; Buddhist Unitarian, Pagan Universalist, UU Christian and dozens of other combinations.
      All of them acknowledge evil in the world but most believe that no god or gods will intervene in human affairs or natural events.
      I believe you are conflating deism with humanism. Basically we believe that only humans can battle the evils of the world.

  20. talmoore
    talmoore  June 30, 2017

    A God who does not take an active role in the universe is not a God worth discussing, let alone worshipping.

  21. hasankhan  June 30, 2017

    Another thing that we Muslims believe (and it’s all based on revelation) that Allah’s mere act of bringing us into existence is an act of great kindness since it gives us an opportunity to earn eternal bliss.

    We don’t believe that we are born in sin and need to be saved. We believe all children are sinless until they reach the age of puberty. A person who is mentally unstable is also sinless. This means even if someone is born with birth defects or dies tragic death, this doesn’t take away from their chance of being in paradise. If anything it increases the chance.

  22. bill1600  June 30, 2017

    Maybe we need a more modern perspective on what God is like.

    As a software engineer, I sometimes think of God as The Great Programmer, who wrote the code that instantiated the world and booted it up.

    Now, software engineers know that even when they don’t intend to, they often create programs that exhibit behavior more complex than they realized, and which they cannot predict. If asked “How come your program is doing X?”, you’d think the author should have an answer, since he wrote every line of it. But sometimes he can’t.

    Maybe God is like that.

  23. Timothy  June 30, 2017

    For me personally, Deism works as part of my world view. To me it seems reasonable that a Divine Being initiated the creation of the universe as we know it, sort of like the Genesis project in Star Trek 2, but upon it’s fruition no longer has anything to do with it. I like to look at nature and believe there was some sort of divine initiative and purposeful order given to it, but ultimately whether that is actually the case doesnt really matter. For me thinking this way makes me a little more thankful for what we have in this world.

  24. leo.b@cox.net  June 30, 2017

    Thank you much for sharing your personal opinion. I believe that there are many who believe in a Divine Designer(First Principle) and an afterlife, where the truth will be known, simply because it gives them hope and purpose. Unlike many ‘scholars’ who have spent careers logically assessing such things, these people without such hope or purpose would likely live very unrewarding and non-productive lives. In the end, they may believe that what if this is it, no god, no afterlife, but I live my life like there is; then in the end what have I really lost or given up?

  25. anthonygale  July 1, 2017

    What is your opinion on the idea of an imperfect God that also interacts with the world? I think one of the reasons a lot of people believe in God is because they believe there is good reason to think that a divine being has influenced the world and even their lives in a personal way. You might not buy that, but if it was true it would support the existence of a creator who continues to interact with the world. And this creator still would not have to be perfect. Have you ever had the IT people update your computer and the software patch creates another problem? So they fix that to and more problems as they come up along the way. They don’t always answer their phones or respond promptly to email, but they are (usually) well meaning and competent enough. That’s perhaps a silly analogy. But an imperfect God who interacts is different that one who just got things started and left it alone.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2017

      I’ve never seen any reason to believe such a god exists.

  26. moose  July 1, 2017

    …or, you can believe in a trinity of gods which together possess all these properties.
    One Transcendent God who does not intervene in human conditions. A perfect God wholly independent of the material universe and beyond all physical laws. A God the Father!
    Then an Anthropomorphistic God who DO intervene in human conditions. A God who helps to shape the lives of humans. A God the invisible Father can talk through. A Son of God!
    And last a personal Spirit that speaks to the heart of man. A Holy Spirit who circumcises the human hearts to God. A personal Spirit that opens the mind of man for the Word written in the Holy Scriptures.
    All true gods but with different properties.

  27. madmargie  July 1, 2017

    I prefer to believe in Process Theology. It makes sense to me. It also address the problem of evil. I believe God loves and cares about each of the creation. And Process theism also talks about the way God acts in the world. It has good ethics. The idea of dominion, which is prevalent in traditional theology, is a tragic model. I believe God does not coerce us but instead uses persuasion to try to influence us toward right decisions. …mostly for our own good. But God struggles to reach us with God’s influence because we all tend to be too selfish and stubborn to see the bestt decisions for our lives.

  28. bcdwa288  July 1, 2017

    I submitted the following comment a few posts ago intending that it be understood as satire. On second reading it occurred to me that someone might think that I actually believe the doctrine of Original Sin and all its implications regarding suffering. I do not.

    Original comment:
    I would say that the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Geneses have had more impact, for the fundamentalist evangelical, on Christianity than any other part of the Bible. They are the foundation of the idea of the need for atonement and redemption which in turn is the cornerstone of Christianity. The Fall of Man provides the perfect answer to the question of why is there suffering. God imposed on Adam and Eve and all their descendants (us) all the suffering we bear and observe as punishment for eating “of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.
    Christianity preaches that people should spend their lives studying what is right and what is wrong, learning the difference between good and evil, doing the right and avoiding doing the wrong but all human suffering, in all its forms, in the world, is punishment of Adam and Eve and their decedents imposed by God in the Garden of Eden because they disobeyed Him and ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Surely the cosmic catch-22 between these claims is obvious. We must know right from wrong, do the right and not do the wrong but we are dammed because our ancestor discovered the difference between the two. Go figure!!

  29. bcdwa288  July 1, 2017

    There is a book out there with a title something like “I’m O.K. With God Its Religion I Can’t Stand”. You asked in this post what good could come from believing in a God who just “got the ball rolling”. Could such a deistic God provide a path to eternal life?

  30. dragonfly  July 1, 2017

    To me it sounds like the commandment is “don’t worship any other god more than me” rather than “don’t worship any other god”. Which one is it in Hebrew?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2017

      It’s ambiguous: “You are not to have any god before me”

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 2, 2017

      The words used in the Hebrew (in both Exodus and Deuteronomy) are: lo-yihyeh lekha elohim acherim ‘al-panai.
      Which is often translated: “You shalt have no other gods before Me.”
      However, the actual meaning of this phrase can be ambiguous depending on the context. The first three quarters of the phrase are not too contraversial. Lo-yihyeh lekha means, literally, in Hebrew: “Not will be for you”. The meaning in Hebrew is pretty much equivalent to the English: “You will not have”.
      The next part, elohim acherim, is not as clear. It literally means “other gods” in the Hebrew, but the context suggests it could also mean “another god”. That’s because the first part, “You will not have,” is in the second-person singular, not the plural (i.e. “You, Moses, will not have…” rather than “All of you, Israel, will not have…”). You, specifically, as an individual Israelite will not have another god. But, within the context of this sentence, the distinction “other gods” versus “another god” isn’t terribly important. The problem part is the last part: ‘al-panai. In Hebrew it literally means “on my face,” but the idiomatic nature of the expression suggests all sorts of other meanings, including, but by no means limited to: “against my image,” “on my image,” “over my face,” “over my image,” “in front of me (in space),” “in front of me (in time),” “above my surface,” “before me (in importance),” “before me (in spatial order),” “before me (in worhip),” “before me (in hierarchy).”

      As you can see it gets rather esoteric and problematic at that part. For my part, I think we can get a better understanding of what the writer of the Decalogue means by what he writes two verses down (Exodus 20:4 and Deut. 5:8), where, in reference to idols, he says lo-tishtachweh lahem, or “do not bow down to them.” The Hebrew word translated as “bow down,” however, is rather interesting. The word doesn’t literally mean “bow down.” Indeed, it’s a bizarre word, the meaning of which is not that clear. (WARNING: scary jargon ahead!) But what is clear about tishtachweh is that it is in the hitpa’el binyan, which implies a reflexive relationship between subject and object. That is, it’s not just what the worshipper is doing for the idol, but also what the idol is doing for the worshipper. In other words, you are not supposed to have the servant-master relationship with the idol! This, I think, is what is meant in the previous commandment about not having “other gods before me”. The author is saying “have the servant-master relationship with Yahweh only, and no other gods.” Yahweh is your god, and no other god.

  31. Tempo1936  July 1, 2017

    The Bible has nothing to say about An Astroid The Size of Staten Island that hit near the Yucatán peninsula near the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed destroyed 2/3 of all living creatures on earth 60 million years ago. Satellite imagery in 1990 defined The outline of the crater which is over 100 miles in diameter.
    The Old Testament describes the glory of the heavens and stars but writers had no idea are of the near total end of the earth by a a a small astroid .
    Just as Jesus prophesied, there will be an end time . But It won’t be The sun of man riding on a cloud. Oh no, it will simply be another large astroid hitting the earth.

  32. NancyGKnapp  July 2, 2017

    Perhaps we should just let go of the old idea of a personal God. The Nicene definition doesn’t make sense any more. I can’t picture the three persons of the trinity in relationship with each other and us. It makes God seem very small to me. But that does not mean that there is not a spirit or consciousness behind the universe. Science may be more able to find the answer to that than theologians, and I think we should let science inform our search for meaning. A religious theory could benefit from being tested against the laws of physics. Paul Davies, a physicist, published a book in 1983 “God and the New Physics” which is really interesting. He wrote a book later in 1992 called “The Mind of God,” which I want to find and read. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2014. I am also thinking that perhaps when we die our consciousness is absorbed into the consciousness of God. That may be a Buddhist view; I’m not sure. Also I wonder about the view of our native American friends. Don’t they believe in the “Great Spirit.” I can’t believe that I, who thought I was such a liberal Christian, was still hanging on to Paul’s explanation in 1st Corinthians. I guess I was an apocalyptic as I didn’t question that those who died would be raised incorruptible and those who were alive on Jesus’ return would be changed and we would all meet him in the air. So now, in my sunset years, I am back to the BIG questions.

  33. maklaka  July 2, 2017

    I just experienced a strange coincidence this fine 2am July morning. I read your blog series on the problem of suffering. I then logged on to Facebook only to find Neil DG Tyson condensing your exact points into his reason for nonbelief. Perhaps he’s a fan?

    https://youtu.be/jXAokvnv7Mc

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2017

      No idea! But I’m a fan of *his*! (I’m reading his most recent book just now)

  34. john76  July 2, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman said: “Why appeal to a divine causality for the start of all things when everything else can be explained apart from divine causality?”

    – If we trace back our present moment to the Big Bang, the question then becomes how did the materials that made up the Big Bang get there in the first place, and so on and so on to an infinite regress. One way to stop the regress is posit a divine first cause. The other current way without God is to posit the universe(s) all the way back for endless time (bi-eternal inflation theory), but this naturalistic explanation runs counter to logic because it has to maintain the infinite regress. So, it is just as likely as not that we should posit a divine first cause as a naturalistic first cause, since our best naturalistic explanation entails an absurdity. To be sure, positing the divine as a first cause is an example of the God of the Gaps fallacy, but the alternative is to admit as true agnostics that it is just as likely that there was a naturalistic first cause, as it is there was a divine first cause.

  35. cheito
    cheito  July 2, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Last night, I had posted a different post, with similar ideas and comments, to the one I’m posting now, but I don’t see it in this blog today. For some reason it was deleted. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not saving the previous post, so I’m attempting to write it again as close to the other one as possible. I do like the first one better. Anyway here it is.
    ____________________________

    Your Comment

    I have been talking about why suffering is a “problem” in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and here I would like to reflect a bit on a point that some commenters have made, that it is a problem if and only if one has a certain conception of God as a being who is all-powerful, loving, and active in the world.

    My Comment:

    I believe in a God who is all-powerful, loving, and active in this world, and because I understand, and am convinced that the almighty and all-loving God I believe in, will not do anything willfully malicious, I don’t consider the sufferings in this world incompatible with my faith in God.

    Instead of questioning, if God is almighty, and all-loving, then why doesn’t He end all suffering already; I try to understand why He allows evil and suffering in this world. I personally, have no doubts that the creator of the universe is an almighty and loving God, so the fact that He allows suffering is not a problem for me.

    The creation itself bears witness to God’s power and divine nature, and the beauty and intricacy of the creation, i.e., the colors He chose for the sky and the oceans, the fruit trees and vegetation He created for our food, the rain clouds, etc, etc, all are clear indications of his love for all of us.

    God’s in His inscrutable understanding, knowledge and wisdom, allows suffering. The reason(s) and answer(s) as to why God allows suffering in this world are multifaceted and are all true, but the answers to many questions remain a mystery.

    Deuteronomy 29:29- the secret things belong to the Lord our God and the things revealed belong to us…

    One reason for the suffering(s) in this world, is evil. Many aspects of Evil are still a mystery, however, Evil is real! Evil manifests itself through lawlessness. Evil has no moral code it adheres to. Evil is practiced by many human beings, and by other beings not of human origin.

    Why doesn’t God destroy those who practice evil, or Imprison them? I’m sure there’s a very good reason(s) why God hasn’t completely abolished evil and those practicing it!…

    I didn’t create the universe(s), nor did I create the human race, nor any other beings that exist in the universe. My wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are not unfathomable, therefore I trust that God knows what He’s doing.

    ________________________________

    Another reason for the suffering in this world, is that humans have a free will, and the knowledge of good and evil. God will not, and does not force humans to choose what is good. God does, however, instruct and command people to obey Him and to choose what’s wholesome and good according to His moral law, i.e., don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, but rather work for what you need, etc.

    If a person disobeys God there are consequences, i.e., sufferings.

    A relevant example of suffering resulting from adultery and murder, is the story of David and Bathsheba. Perhaps to some, the death of David and Bathsheba’s child, was unjust because he was innocent, but to God it was the best thing for the child.

    God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:9)

    He knows best and we should trust Him, and be thankful for all the good that he has done for all us.

  36. Jana  July 2, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman I am excited by the philosophical and emotional challenges your sincere questioning poses. How better to hone and clarify my own concepts than to ruminate on what you too have wrestled and concluded. In short, after I’ve given what you’ve written the thought and reflection it deserves .. I’ll be back 🙂

  37. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  July 2, 2017

    Bart oh Bart… I went to New Life here in Colorado Springs today… If you research, a tragic event has happened there. A shooting back in 2007 I believe… I just want to say … They are strong and God has a plan that place of worship… I purchased my beautiful bible from there, and many other things… I went today… The pastors are strong believers despite what had happened… It broke my heart, but they still preach good news… musicians and pastors came up to me, because I stand out I believe ( blessed in the flesh and sit alone and observe ) do they feel my presence…? I did tell them ” I just want to sit in background and observe… with all respect, I believe in Zeus.. Act 14:12 … The pastor seemed to have a fear in his eyes when I had said this to him… Does he feel my faith …? Does he feel my royalty…? It is not a game it is said… I say the same thing… For all things I say come true… Sons of Zeus are touched by Zeus, the painting of Adam reaching for God… I remember along time ago… When I used dance to Zeus…

  38. Eskil  July 2, 2017

    This is very odd blog post indeed…

    You asked: ”And what does such a belief give you?   Suppose it’s right.  Then what?  What would it matter?   How would it affect a single thing you think, believe, or do?  How would it have any effect on your life? ”

    Most people naturally believe in god due to the belief in the afterlife. Most believe that belief in god etc. are the keys to eternal life. That’s it. It is natural to shape one’s concept of god based on empirical evidence. Many people have experienced the presence of god and dead loved ones (taken it might be explained as hallucination) and at the same time they hold scientific worldview. Then it makes lots sense to put god in the big bang that is a mystery to science as well.

    In addition, your blog sounds as if you are saying that for you it makes no sense to believe in god unless supernatural powers to do miracles exists in this life? Is that what you are trying to say?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 3, 2017

      My sense is that the vast majority of people who have ever lived did / do *not* believe in God because of a belief in the afterlife, even if that view is prominent in some strands of Christianity.

      • Eskil  July 3, 2017

        I was naturally referring to educated Christians. By the way, inspired by your reply, I did some googling on why people actually believe in gods and I hit this sceptic site.
        http://www.csicop.org/si/show/why_do_people_believe_in_gods
        It said that studies have found evidence that person’s age and level of education have negative correlation with being religious: “the best cures for teleological delusion are those we already know of: A high level of education”. You kind of fit well into that model, don’t you? Do you think you would have had issues with the “Problem” of Suffering without your high level of education?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 4, 2017

          I wouldn’t call these views “delusions” but yes, I think highly educated people tend to have a different view of such things from less educated ones. Just look at typical university faculties in America!

  39. Eskil  July 2, 2017

    Why would suffering be problem in Jewish tradition? OT’s god doesn’t seem to be only good but evil as well. For example it says in the ten commandments: “for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” Isn’t that unjust and unmerciful thing to do to punish innocent children? Christian traditions sensors this sentence from ten commandments and offers the concept of hell as the punishment instead.

  40. anthonygale  July 3, 2017

    This is an offshoot, but I had never thought about your point that pagan religions and even early Judaism have many gods. In many of the Genesis stories, God is portrayed as anthropomorphic and imperfect. For example, he regrets creating the world before the flood. That would mean that God can make a mistake. That being said, have you thought/written much about how this transition took place? That is, how a belief in many imperfect gods changed into one perfect God. It might make for a good post or even book.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      No, I”ve never dealt with that directly. I wonder if Jack Miles A History of God does?

  41. johnlein  July 3, 2017

    I no longer believe in the concepts of god you outline here, also thinking of them as harmful or pointless. Yet I (at this moment) still find other views useful. (And I still, most of the time, identify as Christian though that’s more about Jesus for me than God. And I’m currently in seminary, so I feel a lot of pressure to work on this problem!)

    I’m thinking of the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, process theology, radical theology, and the mystics. Ideas which intersect with science like panpsychism or panexperiementalism. Ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism. I’ve been reflecting a lot on authors like Alan Watts, Thomas Merton, John D. Caputo, and Peter Rollins.

    Are these ideas which you’re simply not interested in pursuing, have looked at but rejected, or feel like they’re stretching too far past the Christian base in the Scriptures to be credibly within the tradition? Not judging at all, just curious.

  42. Jana  July 5, 2017

    It appears to me that suffering is endemic to the natural world. As simple as it sounds having watched thousands of hours of nature documentaries (I’m an aficionado of Sir David Attenborough and have downloaded all 175G of his work), suffering is germane whether it is a fur seal wailing over the loss of her young in a flood or losses sustained by the Taiga reindeer. No seal God was involved nor reindeer God etc. and No Human God either. This is also the first tenet in Buddhism called the Four Noble Truths. Suffering is endemic. Truths because they are self evident and universal .. (I would recommend Master Chogyal Norbu’s youtube video intro to Dzogchen Buddhism : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY11h9HOhwg&t=6s) One of the other Four Truths is then that suffering can be overcome/ conquered/subdued/eradicated (yes it is possible), it is also then vital to help others. Another explanation of suffering which I personally have experienced to my satisfaction and understanding is karma (Buddhist and Yogic) … both individual and group/culture. However, I can’t recommend a specific reference because my insights are intimate, complex and personal. Now the God question .. my experience and I emphasize experience because any true practitioner works from an accumulated catalogue of personal experiences which seem to be archetypal as well and gained through intensive practices and NOT from theory or literary sources. “God” is a complex abstraction that is personified and simplified to the satisfaction of a concrete aspect of the mind and that Abstraction can be invoked … Personally and collectively. IT and personified /He/She/They is/are involved DIRECTLY. There are far better minds than mine, Dzogchen and Kundalini Yogic Masters who have written in detail explanations; however, I will add that as one advances or matures or unfolds the complexity of the 4D “weave”/ interactions of what I will term “Consciousness” becomes more apparent. It is possible to probable to be both happy and involved, a helpful force amid suffering to alleviate the suffering of others when one has successfully minimized if not eradicated personal suffering (when the doctor in fact and in truth has healed him/herself). Case in point the Dalai Lama. This is a promise. (From what I’ve read on your blogs, I find the Christian/Jewish model lacking).

    When I posted, this turned out to be long … I hope it is helpful.

    • Jana  July 9, 2017

      Suffering I think begins the split second there is competition in all life forms. Once there is competition for food or space (basically the same thing), there are winners/losers and survival/killing. Your questioning (as I wrote) forces me to clarify my own line of thinking while understanding and appreciating the Christian/Jewish theology here. Can humans (perhaps the only specie to be able to do so) transcend and escape this cycle? Yes. Thank you again Dr. Ehrman for the gift of your genius. Jana

  43. SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2017

    Bart, would you see a difference betweed divine causality and divine instrumentality (involvement may be nearer the word I mean)?
    The reason I ask is that I find prayer to be very useful in my personal life, but I don’t know or care to know if the effects of prayer are from a divine actor or completely self-manufactured.
    From the age of about 45 to about 55, I was a self-described atheist of the obnoxious sort, but when I faced my addiction(s), it was suggested that contact with a “god of my understanding” would be more than useful. I have gone through various provisional gods, settling on what one well-known text on recovery calls “the Great Reality” which can only be found within oneself. Again, I have no idea if it is anything other than just me, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to know that. Thank you for sharing so much of your personal journey. I’ll try to appreciate it enough for myself and anyone else who doesn’t see the need for it.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 11, 2017

      Yes, I think there is a difference between cause and instrument!

  44. SidDhartha1953  July 10, 2017

    Now for something completely different:
    Acts 9:25 refers to Saul/Paul’s disciples in Damascus. This was before he had met with any of the apostles in Jerusalem. Do you know of any other apostles surrounding themselves with personal disciples? Is Luke suggesting Paul was, in some sense, on a higher plane than the other apostles, more like John the Baptist and Jesus in terms of being key figures in God’s program?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 11, 2017

      The “parties” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 appear to be organized around apostles as their disciples (Paul, Cephas, Apollos)

  45. TGeiger  October 23, 2017

    My problem with the typical Christian pastor response to suffering in the world (its all part of God’s plan) is that it seems in direct contradiction to what is stated repeatedly in John. For instance: in John 14:
    “12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
    13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
    14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

    So if I ask the Father to relieve or remove suffering in the name of Jesus and it doesn’t happen, then who is wrong? Something seems amiss to me.

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